Zombie VS ghost assets: how asset control can halt the march of the living dead

Nov 30, 2021 4 min read By Tom Wilcock
Zombie VS ghost assets: how asset control can halt the march of the living dead

Depending on how robust your asset management tools and processes are, there could be a whole army of Ghost and Zombie assets stalking your business. How can you stop them disrupting your FM operations and haunting your bottom line?

What’s a Ghost Asset?

A ghost asset is a piece of equipment that is listed in your asset register but doesn’t actually exist. It may have been moved, lost, stolen, broken or unofficially disposed of since you bought it, but you have no record of that happening. But it’s these ghosts in the machine that may be damaging your bottom line:

  • Your business may be paying a premium to insure them 
  • Your business may be underperforming because of their absence
  • You could be risking H&S breaches because they’re not there
  • There maybe no budget available to replace them when you finally work out they’re missing

Feeling the strain? Download our three-step guide to selecting a CAFM system

What’s a Zombie asset?

A zombie asset is the opposite of a ghost asset. It’s an asset that’s on your premises but is not actually recorded in your register. It could be an asset that was supposed to be given away as part of a trade-in deal, but never actually claimed back. As a result it may have been deleted from your asset records, but is still actively being used by your business. Or maybe it’s a single asset that has been turned into two or more assets. During the pandemic a lot of furniture was reconfigured and rebuilt in this way to help with social distancing requirements. In this case you may have a number of new assets or ‘Zombies’ on your premises that are not accounted for in your digital records. Zombie assets can have negative financial and operational consequences, too. They can result in:

  • Under-insurance
  • Inaccurate depreciation assessments
  • Active assets with no maintenance records or history
  • Assets being replaced unnecessarily, because the business think they don’t exist

Zombie and Ghost assets can screw up your maintenance routines, compliance tasks, budgeting and Capex calculations, as well as causing you to waste a whole lot of time and energy trying to account for them.

How have we got here?

65% of fixed asset records are incomplete, inaccurate, or altogether missing - while 10 to 30 percent of fixed assets are no longer owned. 

Michael N. Day and Stephen Talbot, Fixed Asset Management White Paper

As these figures show, it’s hard to consistently document the details of your assets as they’re acquired, and equally hard to ensure you’re accurately tracking their use and movement over time. 

Where do they come from?

If you’ve been managing your assets using pen and paper, or manually maintaining records within spreadsheets, the chances are your current asset records are not going to be an accurate reflection of what you really own. 

  • Newly acquired assets may be correctly added to a central spreadsheet, but without proper controls in place to keep them intact, important details can be omitted and records can easily be overwritten. Using an improvised digital solution risks the integrity of all your data. To ensure uniformity choose a purpose built system that is updatable and accessible but with effective data control at its core.
  • As equipment breaks down, emergency decisions are made, assets are often moved, disposed of  or replaced without due process. Engineers working on the fly without mobile tools to record activity can easily forget to record their activity and lose track of what they have done. 
  • Then there’s the risk of theft and loss you can’t track in real time, equipment illicitly removed or tucked away in dark corners never to be seen again. Without the tools to regularly audit your assets you can be unaware that equipment is missing which can cause serious problems further down the line.

All this can result in an entire army of ghost and zombie assets sucking up your money, maintenance resource and energy, and even risking H&S compliance.

Time for an exorcism?

So, how can you rid yourself of your zombies and ghosts?

Set up an electronic asset register as part of a CAFM system

Setting up an accurate digital register of your fixed assets as part of a CAFM system is the first step to getting your ‘house of the undead’ in order.

In the first place you should ensure that every asset is digitally recorded in your system, while being appropriately labeled and accounted for on the ground. 

Among other things (which we cover in this blog) a good system should let you generate/store: 

  • A unique serial number for every asset
  • A scannable barcode or other kind of digital tag linking through to the digital record

If you’re uploading an existing spreadsheet of assets into a digital register, the system should automatically generate scannable barcodes (such as QRs) for each asset. 

Once you have these you can ‘walk round’ and manually add a dynamic QR tag to each asset. This walk round will also help you identify the ghost and zombie assets in each location so you can start your new asset register with an accurate reflection of what you really own.

A good digital register will let you easily and visually associate lists of assets with locations, showing on building schemas where each asset can be found - so you know what should be where.

Maintain and manage your register effectively

The right digital register will also help you add new assets to your system and keep records up to date more easily. It should help you:

  • Create/add the details of a new asset via a mobile/tablet device
  • Photograph assets and upload them to the records for better identification
  • Clone assets quickly
  • Move assets easily around a site hierarchy tree as required

An asset register working as part of a CAFM system, will let you set up workflows to trigger upkeep activities, with engineers directed to the right location of assets in order to: 

  • Respond to callouts
  • Conduct audits
  • Undertake servicing
  • Compliance checks

When engineers arrive at location they can scan the QR code and update the records to show what they have done during that visit. 

They can record whether they have removed or replaced an asset temporarily or arranged for a permanent replacement. They can trigger suitable follow up activities and ensure the record is correctly updated during subsequent visits. 

How can you kill the phantoms of your operations?

A digital asset register should give you the tools you need to tighten the way you control and keep track of your assets. Linking the physical assets themselves with their digital records via scannable bar codes is key to these efforts. 

But you’ll also need the processes and procedures in place to ensure that every change to the location and status of your assets are recorded as they happen.

Digitising asset management within a CAFM system will help you detect the ghost and zombie assets that pop up and haunt your system.  Effective asset management tools will also help you prevent them materialising in the future.

Winning the battle for budget

Tom Wilcock

Written by Tom Wilcock

Tom Wilcock is the COO and Co-Founder of Expansive Solutions. He is a digital expert with a background in delivering large-scale business digital transformation. He specialises in project management, product user experience, business ecosystems and data intelligence.

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